Great Space | In Good Spirits
Artist in Residence distillery masters industrial-chic
Artist in Residence (AIR) is a sleek 15,000-square-foot distillery and company HQ set in an unassuming industrial park in the shadow of the Gatineau-Ottawa Executive Airport. The look and location are at once incongruous and so very logical. Founder Pierre Mantha’s modern micro-distillery sits next to a springwater source and near the very cornfields that supply the grain to his distillery.
Mantha was determined that the distillery building be used to frame AIR’s story — free-spirited and unconventional. To tie all his ideas together, he brought in designer Kayla Pongrac of Iron and Ivory. Light and bright, the three-storey space she has imagined encompasses Mantha’s vision while also welcoming the visitor and referencing the distillery’s utilitarian nature.
On the main floor, a full wall of windows ensures that light streams in and the copper stills glow, their lustre accentuated against a backdrop of black corrugated steel. Above that backdrop is a plain white wall. When time permits, it will be adorned with black graffiti-inspired art telling the story of AIR’s various brands.
In the third-floor showroom, Pongrac mirrors the sensuous curves and colours of the stills with an expansive copper-clad bar that invites tasters to grab a seat and stay awhile. Here, again, there is an industrial vibe, but one that has been warmed and made more inviting. Yes, there’s that concrete floor again, an exposed ceiling, and black metal bases on the lounge chairs. But each of these elements is subtly warmer now — the floor polished to a high sheen, the ceiling featuring suspended wooden boards and hanging ivy, the chairs upholstered in a rich emerald green. Industry meets luxury.
Logic and art are intertwined in AIR’s products, too, with Mantha tying each spirit to a particular artist. The first, Waxwing Bohemian Gin, features a label by Toronto’s Victor Wong, the creative mind behind Zoologist Perfumes. Why a lesser-known Canadian bird as an ambassador for gin? “It eats berries, which are used to make gin. And if they’re fermenting, it might get a bit drunk,” Mantha explains. Wong took those ideas and sketched a distinctly suave waxwing sporting a bomber jacket and a scarf subtly printed with berries.
Working with artists also fits with the overall unorthodox approach to the business. AIR has no unified brand. Instead, each new product reflects the vision of an individual artist — Waxwing has a retro vibe, Vodkalight looks slick and expensive, and Mayhaven, a ginger liquor, references the club scene.
Already, Mantha has fielded multiple calls asking whether AIR’s third floor is available to rent for private events. For now, though, the plan is to use the space only for gatherings hosted by the distillery. Plans for the immediate future include a limited number of tasting nights for bartenders and other industry influencers, as well as small tours. And so Mantha is thinking big but starting small on the event side. But those lucky few who score an invite will appreciate the venue almost as much as the cocktails, for just as Artist in Residence embraces a bold approach to spirit-making, so, too, the building embodies a bright and shiny optimism.
Below: Founder Pierre Mantha has embraced an unorthodox approach to the business. AiR has no unified “brand.” Instead, each new spirit reflects the vision of an individual artist